Engels on materialism: part 4 – the bourgeois prejudice against materialism

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The course of evolution of Feuerbach is that of a Hegelian — a never quite orthodox Hegelian, it is true — into a materialist; an evolution which at a definite stage necessitates a complete rupture with the idealist system of his predecessor. With irresistible force, Feuerbach is finally driven to the realisation that the Hegelian premundane existence of the “absolute idea”, the “pre-existence of the logical categories” before the world existed, is nothing more than the fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extra-mundane creator; that the material, sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are the product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter. This is, of course, pure materialism. But, having got so far, Feuerbach stops short. He cannot overcome the customary philosophical prejudice, prejudice not against the thing but against the name materialism. He says:

‘To me materialism is the foundation of the edifice of human essence and knowledge; but to me it is not what it is to the physiologist, to the natural scientists in the narrower sense, for example, to Moleschott, and necessarily is from their standpoint and profession, namely, the edifice itself. Backwards I fully agree with the materialists; but not forwards.’

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886


Full text at Marxists Internet Archive


Reply to Austin 2: on reason and the emotions in philosophy


Hi Austin,

When I process about a lack of hope, I refer not to self-pity but to a loss of faith in others – the same loss of faith that results in the countless ways people use to escape from life (Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion recommended a priesthood of philosophers, caring nothing for the world),1 particularly in the capitalist West, where it is encouraged to believe and practice that exploitation (‘What’s in it for Me?’) forms the basis of all relationships – with others and nature.

I needed someone to recognise my need, and to step forward unasked and help me (why? because I knew I was putting to the test for the first time for myself what I had believed in and acted on for others). My need was recognised  – a friend lent me the money to get my car registered.

‘So what? It’s only a car’ one might reply, but it was a very important symbolic point for me at the time. This ‘small’ act renewed my hope, my belief in humanity and trust in my idealism and sustained me through two degrees, enabling me to develop my philosophy and work, contrary to the dominant capitalist ideology and its academic proponents.

We are animals and our brains function holistically. Thoughts – linguistically structured and those from ‘below’ language seamlessly generate emotions which in turn feed back into thoughts. There is no such thing as a thought without an emotion or vice versa.

There are those who argue that conscious linguistic thought is simply the end point of a very long ‘subterranean’ process – the conscious thought simply manifests ‘decisions’ already ‘taken’. Then there is the degree of development of areas of our brains – which are more literally primitive and which the most advanced and how do they bear on the working of our brains? All these inter-related processes take place constantly in the one brain.

Which brings me to the key justification for Western supremacism – our ‘reason’ – the Great Lie of patriarchal philosophy. What is held up as the most rigorous is often suffused with the most intuitive, the most ‘subterranean’, poetic and dialectical. Mysticism, its influence pervasive in our culture and its philosophy, is built on these processes.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, structured with impressive, imposing numerically sequential divisions and taught by academics as a model of intellectual rigour is nothing more than disingenuous mystical gobbledygook book-ended by the core apophatic statement that what we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.

Russell, in his introduction, discussed Wittgenstein’s attitude to the mystical, pointing out ‘after all, Mr Wittgenstein manages to say a good deal about what cannot be said’ including on ethics – and I would add, aesthetics and God, no less.

The Tractatus (by one whom I regard as Heraclitus without the Heraclitus, by one who was a model for everything philosophy is not) can be consigned with confidence, in terms of worth, to the bottom end of this mystical current.

Hegel’s philosophy, again deeply disingenuous patriarchal mysticism in the name of ‘Reason’ is, as Marx recognised, at the top end of this scale. His philosophy is not only the richest and most complex expression of mysticism, it was, till then, the closest reflection in philosophical language of how the world works. Marx stood Hegel’s structure on its ‘feet’.

In applying Hegel’s philosophy to materialism, Marx developed materialism dialectically (while it is a philosophy not a science, it is the only philosophy for the development of science, which goes ever deeper into the contradictory nature of the world).

But Marx retained a commitment to the place of language in philosophy – that thought, in reflecting the world, is only linguistic and conceptual. And it is in this area that dialectical materialism must be further developed.2

The mystical philosophy that Marx acknowledged he built his own philosophy on, his own method of knowing the world, not only has at its core another way of reasoning – intuition, mysticism’s appreciation of the importance of the emotions to thought and of the complexity in the relations between emotions and thought found expression in the very dialectics Marx positioned at the heart of materialism.

Best regards,




1. ’Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C.Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 161-162

2. The same problem the artistic patriarch Plato had with ‘the emotions’ can be found in the lives of the leading Marxists: Unable to unite science and art in his dialogue ‘Cleanthes’, which also carried him ‘like a false-hearted siren into the clutches of the enemy’, Marx abandoned poetry for philosophy in which he hoped to discover ‘our mental nature to be just as determined, concrete, and firmly established as our physical’. In E. Fischer, The Necessity of Art, A Marxist Approach, Trans. A. Bostock, 1959, reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, 4. In his doctoral thesis of 1841 he wrote ‘In order for man to become his only true object, he must have crushed within himself (my italics) his relative mode of being, the force of passion and of mere nature.’ (Ibid.); Lenin, Gorky and Lunacharsky wrote that although Lenin loved music, to listen to it disturbed him very much. In Lenin on Literature and Art, Progress: Moscow, 1978, 270, 284, 285; Trotsky also admitted to ‘resisting’ art. In M. Solomon, Ed. Marxism and Art, Essays Classic and Contemporary, 1973, reprint. Detroit, 1986,192.


Dialectical materialism and the constraint of capitalist ideology


Hi Tach,

I agree with Morawski who wrote that belief systems are delimited by interests. My focus for the last thirty two years has been on understanding and exposing how those limitations function in the philosophy of capitalist ideology and on going beyond them. This is why I have had so much difficulty with and rejection by time-serving academics – all the more so because of Australia’s authoritarian, anti-intellectual, shame-based and servile culture.

In his Materialism and Empirio-criticism Lenin wrote of the brilliant development of materialism by Marx and Engels from mechanical to dialectical (significantly in response to scientific developments, a point lost on contemporary Western scientists whose work is increasingly stunted by capitalist ideology and its philosophical idealism), but I disagree with him when he wrote that in doing this, Marx and Engels brought the development of materialism to its culmination.

Firstly, such a statement is un-dialectical (it is amazing that, in theorising ‘end-points’, some of the greatest dialecticians – Hegel, Marx and Lenin – could make such a basic error). Secondly, developments in brain science are more and more showing an appreciation of how the brain functions wholistically (I think this relates to your point, because they are just steps to go from the brain as a unit to the brain in a body and that body in a social world) and in the process better understanding what ‘reason’ is, its rich and dynamic nature – the same ‘reason’ philosophers not only believe they engage in (which Lenin superbly exposed and mocked in his Materialism and Empirio-criticism) but also, in its manifestation, utterly take for granted – exemplified by Descartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’.

This is why I argue that mysticism (its perspective and methods) and its profound relationship with materialism must be thoroughly examined. Capitalist ideology, its philosophy and epistemology, are nothing but a mounting impediment to this, to our engagement with the world and our knowledge of it.



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Patriarchal reason and dreaming: lucid dreaming

What the Man of Reason (linguistic, conceptual,  propositional and academic) refuses to acknowledge

What the Man of Reason (linguistic, conceptual, propositional and academic) refuses to acknowledge

ABC Radio National/All in The Mind/Dreams-the lucid experience 02.11.14

Stephen La Berge: The first thing is that people definitely like lucid dreaming, they find it a rewarding experience. It’s an unusual condition. I’m having this amazing control where I can do things that I didn’t think were possible. I can fly, for example. Walt Disney says that doing the impossible is kind of fun.

The second general area might be simulation or using the dream state to practice, and that ranges from things like athletic performance, musical performance, social interactions. People have described overcoming shyness, using it as a means of cognitive behaviour modification, overcoming fears. When you are lucid it still feels real, even though you know it’s not. So you know you are safe but you know if you are doing something like you’ve got stage or performance anxiety, as one person described in our book, he is going to play the violin in front of this big audience, so he is doing it in his dream. It still feels like he is in front of the big audience, and he feels a bit of trepidation, but he does it and it all works well and he feels great, and that then relieves his anxiety.

Then a third area is creativity, enhancing the possibilities of new ideas. For example, artists looking for a new painting would go in their lucid dream to open a door in the expectation that on the other side of this door will be a gallery showing new art. And indeed they open the door and there are these new paintings, and then you remember and then reproduce when they wake up. People have described using that as a means of getting new musical ideas, new ideas in computer programming and relationship management, all kinds of things that are basically using a creative synthesis of our abilities at night.

…Dreams have long had the reputation for being the way that people work through problems, get to the point of being able to let go of something, including for example having experience with an encounter with a dead loved one and being able to experience them in a way that lets you actually say goodbye and let go. So many different applications of healing in terms of the mental health level of overcoming nightmares, of facing your nightmares and working through them in a way that gives you a sense of empowerment that you can handle these fears within yourself. Just one final broad area is the idea of knowledge that lucid dreaming can give you an opportunity to have an encounter between the unconscious and conscious mind in the dream world that is difficult to arrive at in other places. And so that means self-encounter, self-exploration, then lucid dreaming is one of the ways to do that. It’s the levels that you can’t get elsewhere that I think are most important, and that is dreaming the impossible dream, doing what you can’t do while you are awake.


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